Early life and career beginnings
T.I. was born Clifford Joseph Harris Jr. on September 25, 1980, in Riverdale, Atlanta, Georgia, the son of the late Clifford "Buddy" Harris Sr. and Violeta Morgan. He was raised by his grandparents in Bankhead, Atlanta, Georgia. His father lived in New York and he would often go up there to visit him. His father suffered from Alzheimer's and later died from the disease. T.I. began rapping at age seven. He attended Douglass High School, but later dropped out. As a teenager, he was a drug dealer. He was once known as Rubber Band Man, a reference to the custom of wearing rubber bands around the wrist to denote wealth in terms of drugs or money. By age 14, he had been arrested several times. He was nicknamed "Tip" after his paternal great-grandfather. Kawan "KP" Prather, a record executive, discovered and signed T.I. when he was a teenager. Upon signing with Arista Records subsidiary LaFace Records in 2001, he shortened his name to T.I. out of respect for label mate Q-Tip.
2001–2002: I'm Serious
T.I. released his debut album, I'm Serious, in October 2001 through Arista Records. The album spawned the eponymous single, which featured Jamaican reggae entertainer Beenie Man. His debut single, "I'm Serious," was released on June 26, 2001. The single received little airplay and failed to chart. The album included guests appearances from Pharrell Williams of The Neptunes (who called him "the Jay-Z of the South"), Jazze Pha, Too Short, Bone Crusher, Lil Jon, Pastor Troy, P$C and Youngbloodz. The album featured production from The Neptunes, DJ Toomp, Madvac, and The Grand Hustle Team. Despite the album's guests appearances and production team, the album peaked at number 98 and only sold 163,000 copies in the United States. Critics pointed to the fact that many of the tracks sounded the same and that a few were blatant rip-offs. Other critics commented saying, "T.I. claims to be the king of the South, but fails to show and prove. He does, however, have potential. If his talent ever matches his confidence, he may be headed for stardom."
Due to the poor commercial reception of the album, T.I. was dropped from Arista Records. He then formed Grand Hustle Entertainment and started releasing several mixtapes with the assistance of DJ Drama. He resurfaced in the summer of 2003 with fellow Atlanta rapper and former label-mate Bone Crusher's song "Never Scared." His mixtapes and mainstream exposure from "Never Scared" eventually recaptured major label attention and he signed a joint venture deal with Atlantic Records.
2003–2005: Trap Muzik and Urban Legend
T.I. released his second album Trap Muzik on August 19, 2003 through Grand Hustle Records; it debuted at number four and sold 109,000 copies in its first week. It spawned the singles "24s", "Be Easy", "Rubberband Man", and "Let's Get Away". The album featured guest appearances by Eightball & MJG, Jazze Pha, Bun B and Macboney and was produced by Jazze Pha, Kanye West, David Banner, Madvac and DJ Toomp. In March 2004, a warrant was issued for T.I.'s arrest after he violated his probation of a 1997 drug conviction. He was sentenced to three years in prison. While imprisoned in Cobb County, Georgia, he filmed an unauthorized music video. One month later, he was allowed a work release program.
T.I. released his third studio album, Urban Legend, in November 2004. It debuted at number seven on the Billboard 200, selling 193,000 copies in its first week. The album's official lead single, "Bring Em Out", was released in January 2005 and became his first top ten hit, peaking at number nine on the Billboard Hot 100, while the second single "U Don't Know Me" peaked at number twenty-three on the Billboard Hot 100. His third single "ASAP" reached number 75 on the U.S. charts, number 18 on the U.S. R&B/Hip-Hop charts and number 14 on the Rap chart. T.I. created a video for "ASAP"/"Motivation". However, "Motivation" only made it to number 62 on the U.S. R&B/Hip-Hop singles chart. He was featured in Destiny's Child's 2004 single "Soldier" along with Lil Wayne, peaking at number three on the U.S. Hot 100 and the U.S. R&B Charts.
In 2006, T.I. received two Grammy Award nominations for Best Song Collaboration ("Soldier" w/ Destiny's Child & Lil Wayne) and Best Rap Solo Performance for "U Don't Know Me" at The 48th Grammy Awards. That same year he won Rap Artist of the Year, Rap Album Of The Year, Rap Album Artist Of The Year, Rap Song Artist of the Year and Video Clip Artist of the Year on the Billboard Music Award and Best Male Hip-Hop Artist on the BET Awards.
2006–2007: King, T.I. vs. T.I.P. and federal weapons charges
T.I.'s fourth album, King, debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart in the first half of 2006, selling 522,000 copies in its first week. T.I. released "Front Back" and "Ride with Me" as a promotional singles prior to the release of the album. The singles garnered little attention, but helped to promote not only the album, but also ATL. The album also included the singles, "What You Know," "Why You Wanna," and "Live in the Sky," plus a remix of "Top Back." King earned numerous awards and nominations including a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rap Album. He was also featured in the single "Shoulder Lean" by Young Dro reaching the top ten on the U.S. Hot 100 and #1 on the U.S. Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Hot Rap Tracks.
"What You Know" won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance and was nominated for Best Rap Song at the 49th Grammy Awards. Also that year, T.I. collaborated with Justin Timberlake for "My Love," which proved to be a worldwide hit, and won a Grammy Award for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration with Justin Timberlake at the 49th Annual Grammy Awards and also won Best Male Hip-Hop Artist at the BET Awards for the second straight time. He then served as a featured performer on "We Takin' Over" by DJ Khaled also featuring Akon, Fat Joe, Rick Ross, Birdman and Lil Wayne.
T.I. released his fifth album, T.I. vs. T.I.P., on July 3, 2007. The first single from the album was "Big Things Poppin' (Do It)," which was produced by Mannie Fresh and was released to radio stations on April 17, 2007. The second single, "You Know What It Is" featuring Wyclef Jean, was released June 12, 2007. T.I. vs. T.I.P. sold 468,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. It was T.I.'s second chart-topper in a row: King opened at number one on the Billboard 200 with 522,000 copies in late March 2006. The album included guest performances by Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes, Wyclef Jean, Nelly, and Eminem, and production by Eminem, Jeff Bass, Mannie Fresh, Grand Hustle, The Runners, Just Blaze, Wyclef Jean and Danja. Absent from this album's production lineup were T.I.'s longtime producer DJ Toomp and The Neptunes. In October 2007, T.I. released his third single, "Hurt," featuring Busta Rhymes and Alfamega.
On October 13, 2007, federal authorities arrested T.I. four hours before the BET Hip-Hop Awards in Atlanta. He was charged with two felonies — possession of three unregistered machine guns and two silencers, and possession of firearms by a convicted felon. The arrest was made in the parking lot of a downtown shopping center, which a witness identified as the Walgreens drug store at the corner of North and Piedmont Avenues. T.I. was arrested after allegedly trying to purchase the guns from a "cooperating witness" with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. According to federal officials, the witness had been cooperating with authorities a few days prior to the T.I. arrest, when the cooperating witness was arrested on charges of trying to purchase guns from a federal agent. The witness had been working as T.I.'s bodyguard since July, authorities said. T.I. walked out of the Atlanta United States District Court after appearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan J. Baverman on October 26, 2007. Judge Alan J. Baverman required T.I. post a $3 million bond, $2 million in cash and $1 million in equity on property he owns. The rapper was required to remain at home except for medical appointments and court appearances. The only people allowed to live with him were his girlfriend and children. Visitors were required to be approved by the court.
2008–2009: Paper Trail
T.I.'s suppression hearing was scheduled for February 19, 2008. The performer later pleaded guilty to U.S. federal weapons charges. He was sentenced to an undefined prison sentence, a year of house arrest and 1,500 hours of community service. In an interview with MTV about serving jail time, T.I. stated, "Presumably, while I'm there, I'll be able to strategize my comeback." He went on to say that he would not "just be sitting still doing nothing". At that time T.I. collaborated with Mariah Carey on the "I'll Be Lovin' U Long Time" remix, peaking at number 58 on the U.S. Hot 100 and number 36 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.
While under house arrest, T.I. began writing lyrics down on paper for his following album. The first promotional single from the album, "No Matter What," was released in April 2008. The music video was released on June 2008 on MTV's FN Premieres. The second promotional single was "Swing Ya Rag" which was produced by and featured Swizz Beatz. The official lead single was "Whatever You Like," was released on July 2008, and became his most successful single of his career so far, breaking the record for the highest jump to number one on the Billboard Hot 100, jumping from number 71 to number one. Also becoming T.I.'s first solo number one on the chart. He released his sixth album, Paper Trail, in September 2008. The title of the album refers to the lyrics he had written down on paper. Like many other rappers, T.I. abandoned this style of rapping after his debut album I'm Serious by just memorizing lyrics. His representative explain that T.I. wanted to "take more time to really put something down [this time]". The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 selling 568,000 copies in the United States.
The second single, "Swagga Like Us", featuring Kanye West, Jay-Z and Lil Wayne, debuted and peaked at number five on the Billboard Hot 100. With the third single "Live Your Life" featuring Rihanna, T.I. broke his own record on the Billboard Hot 100 when it jumped from number 80 to the number one. The fourth single "Dead and Gone", featuring Justin Timberlake, peaked at number two for five weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, eventually going on to be nominated during the 52nd Grammy Awards for both "Best Rap/Sung Collaboration" and "Best Rap Song". During the 51st Grammy Awards, he was nominated for four Grammy Awards, eventually winning Best Rap Performance by a Duo Or a Group for "Swagga Like Us". "Remember Me", featuring Mary J. Blige, was released digitally on July 7, 2009. It was the planned first single off the re-release of T.I.'s sixth studio album, "Paper Trail", but the re-release was eventually shelved. The single peaked at number 29 on the Billboard Hot 100. On October 6, "Hell of a Life" was released digitally and went on to peak at number 54 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 2009, T.I. appeared as himself on an episode of Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List. On the episode, he took the comedienne to Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles in LA and gave her a lesson on how to "swagger."
2010–present: King Uncaged
On March 26, 2010, T.I. was released from the halfway house. He is also currently in the studio working on his seventh studio album titled King Uncaged. Jim Jonsin, the producer who previously worked with him on his single, "Whatever You Like" and R&B singer Trey Songz, are scheduled to work on the project..
In February 2010, T.I. made his first public appearance since prison, stepping out with fiancée Tameka "Tiny" Cottle in support of her Alzheimer's research fundraiser "For the Love of Our Fathers" at Atlanta's Opera venue. "I am very well, very happy to be seen," said T.I., who joined Cottle onstage at the end of the benefit. T.I. released a new street single titled "I'm Back" on March 8, 2010. The single has made a Hot Shot Debut at #44 on Billboard's Hot 100 charts.
On May 13, 2010, T.I. appeared on Larry King Live to discuss with Larry King about his nine month prison term on federal gun charges and other topics. T.I. released a promotional soundtrack single entitled, "Yeah Ya Know (Takers)" on May 24. The song is set to appear on the official soundtrack for Takers and his album. It made a debut at #44 on Billboard Hot 100 and number 68 on Canadian Hot 100. His official single off the album entitled; "Got Your Back" which also features American R&B singer Keri Hilson was released on June 1. It debuted at number 38 on Billboard Hot 100 and 48 on Canadian Hot 100.
On May 27, 2010, T.I. released a mixtape entitled "Fuck a Mixtape"; the move was somewhat controversial, due to its title with many feeling he was insulting the Mixtape format. T.I. has addressed the issue by stating that it was a response to all the people who told him to just focus on an album and not on a mixtape. T.I. further defended his decision to release a mixtape by saying:
"I already have 60, 70 songs. A lot of these songs are period pieces that speak volumes to what's going on right now. If I hold onto them next year or the year after, they'll be dated, because my life will be in another direction. If I'm not gonna put it on the album — and they all can't make the album — then they might as well have another platform to present it to the world".
On October 14, 2010 T.I. helped talk down a twenty-four year old man, who was standing on a ledge on the edge of a 22-story building. He heard about the situation on the radio and drove to the scene at Atlanta's 400 Colony Square Building. He released a new single entitled, "Get Back Up" featuring Chris Brown on the same day that he was sent back to prison for violating the terms of his probation.